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Following Australian foundation in 1788 the continent was divided into an eastern half named New South Wales and a western half named New Holland, the latter administered by the colonial government in Sydney.

In 1851 the Port Phillip District separated from the Colony of New South Wales to become the Colony of Victoria.


National Herbarium of Victoria
Photo Roger Spencer – 18 May 2018



First European sightings

Cook had sighted the Victorian coast in 1770, naming Point Hicks ?before landing nearby at Cape Everard then proceeding northwards to chart the continent’s east coast, naming New South Wales on the way.

Early visits, Bass, Flinders

In 1798 George Bass, in a whaleboat, had sailed as far west as his supplies allowed through present-day Bass strait, finding and naming Westernport Bay on 5 January. He later returned, with Flinders, in the sloop Norfolk travelling the length of the strait, naming Wilson’s Promontory but missing Port Phillip Bay. Even with the discovery of the strait that confirmed Van Diemen’s Land as an island shipping tended, until the 1840s, to sail around the south of Van Diemen’s Land for the convenience of a port at Hobart.


In 1799 James Grant was sent by from England in the brig Lady Nelson to find, if possible, a route to Port Jackson that avoided sailing around Van Diemens Land while also assessing whaling opportunities. In December 1800, he noticed from his mast-top a large harbour in the distance, but sailed on to Port Jackson, returning in March 1801 with George Caley, a resident botanical collector supplied by Banks, to spend some time in Westernport before returning to Port Jackson. Though landing on Snapper and Churchill Islands and exploring Bass River there are no records of any observations or collections made by Caley.
[clear up this account with Flora Vic one]

John Murray

On the 5th of January, 1802 Lady Nelson returned, this time under the command of Lt John Murray who noticed the “rip” at the entrance to the bay. On the 15th of February Murray sailed into Port Phillip Bay, raising the Union Jack near Arthur’s Seat (named for its resemblance to a hill outside Edinburgh). In April 1802, Flinders returned, mistaking Port Phillip Bay for Westernport. On realizing his mistake he assumed he had made a new discovery. He mostly explored the western fringes, naming some features, climbing hills, and trading with the Aboriginals.

James Fleming

In early February 1803 King sent a survey team in the Cumberland under Surveyor-General Charles Grimes to make an assessment of the productive potential of King Island and then the potential for settlement of the lower reaches of the Yarra and Maribyrnong Rivers and the basalt plains at Port Phillip – in the process deterring any French interest in this region. On board was a convict gardener James Fleming who kept a journal recording his observations on the vegetation, but if plants were collected there is now no record of them.[2] According to Presland, over the months of January and February they managed to walk the entire coastal margin of the bay.(Presland, Kulin).

Settlement and early exploration -to 1850


Willis (Fl C Aust) Robert Brown Flinders Ra (1802); Sturt Lower Murray (1830); TL Mitchell Darling 1835; Mueller alps, La Trobe River, Wilson’s Promontory (1853), Grampians, Avoca River, through the mallee to Swan Hill, along the Murray to Omeo and the Cobberas, down the Snowy to Gippsland and back to Melbourne (1853) Specimens collected during the great 19th century Australian expeditions were mostly sent to Melbourne.

The first official visit to Port Phillip Bay was on 5 January 1802 when John Murray in the Lady Nelson sailed through the heads (after reconnaissance by his men) [check with above 15th?]. To pre-empt a possible French colonization it was decided to establish a penal colony and on 9 October 1803 a settlement was established near present-day Sorrento under the charge of Lieutenant-Governor David Collins: it consisted of 308 convicts, 51 marines, 17 free settlers, 12 civil officers, a missionary and his wife. They had been sent from England in HMS Calcutta under the command of Captain Daniel Woodriff, principally out of fear that the French, who had been exploring the area, might establish their own settlement and thereby challenge British rights to the continent. Collins quickly decided the place was unsuitable for settlement and in January 1804 the entire complement was moved to Hobart. The next settlement was at Portland, on the west coast in 1834 while Melbourne itself was founded in 1835 by John Batman. After settlement the region around Melbourne was known as the Port Phillip District, a separately administered part of New South Wales. In 1851, the British Government separated the area from New South Wales, proclaiming a Colony of Victoria and in the same year the new colony was given a major boost when gold was discovered first near Ballarat, and later at Bendigo.

Before settling in Hobart Lieutenant David Collins had considered Melbourne in 1803 but found the conditions unsatisfactory. It was not until about 30 years later that the Henty brothers landed in Portland Bay in 1834, and John Batman settled on the site of Melbourne, that the Port Phillip District of New South Wales was officially sanctioned in 1837 with the first immigrants sailing into Port Phillip in 1839.

Brown’s first plant collections 1802

The first sightings of Victorian plants by Europeans were those of George Bass, landing at Wilson’s Promontory in Jan. 1798 and James Grant in Western Port in March 1801, although it seems that there were no specimens collected.[3] The first European to collect plants in current Victoria was Frenchman M. Leschenault de la Tour who put into Western Port with Captain Hamelin’s on Le Naturaliste in early April 1802. These collections [what were they? If any] pre-date by only a few days those of Robert Brown, naturalist ([not necessarily?]there was also artist Ferdinand Bauer and gardener Peter Good described in a letter from Brown to his patron Banks in 1802 as “a most valuable assistant, a more active man in his department could hardly, I believe, be met with”.) on Flinders’s ship the Investigator which put into the Bay on 26 April 1802 within four months of its discovery by John Murray. The Investigator anchored near Dromana, staying for eight days, during which a small party landed near today’s MCrae and, with Brown, climbed Arthur’s Seat and made other forays around the northern shores of the Mornington Peninsula although Brown was not in Flinders’s party that scaled Station Peak in the You Yangs on the western side of the bay.[5] Very few plants were collected as little would have been in flower at this time of year.

Browns second visit

However, Brown later returned from Van Diemen’s Land and spent a week in the area of Sorrento on 18 Jan. 1804 as part of the Collins aborted attempt to found a colony, leaving on the Lady Nelson for Hobart with the last party of evacuees from the abandoned site. One of the specimens he collected on this occasion, the Blue Pincushion, was later given a Latinized form of his name, Brunonia australis and has subsequently been given its own botanical family Brunoniaceae. Brown had collected about 100 specimens, far fewer than in other states, and about 18 of these were new to science. Later, George Bentham in Flora Australiensis (1863-78) attributed 76 species to Browns Port Phillip collections.[6]

William Baxter, Ronald Gunn

It was over 20 years before further collections were made. William Baxter was a gardener and seed collector for London nurseryman John Mackay who collected briefly in 1826 other brief visits included that of Jules Dumont D’Urville to Western Port in 1826, James Backhouse in 1837. Ronald Gunn collected at several sites on the south coast in 1835, publishing on the plants of the Geelong region in 1842, the first paper published within Australia on the flora of this region. Other sightings were made but botanical collection negligible.

Thomas Mitchell

From June to October in 1836 Major Thomas Mitchell crossed the state from Swan Hill to Portland via the Grampians and lower Glenelg river, returning to the Murray at Wodonga. His route followed some of the more botanically rich areas and more than 150 specimens were collected by ex convict John Richardson on this expedition and sent to John Lindley in London who described 40 new species from these collections.

In 1854 eminent Irish phycologist (algae) William Harvey stayed with Mueller and amassed 326 species in 96 genera, many new to science.

Resident collectors

[Many of the botanists and collectors of the early days were amateur enthusiasts and self-taught naturalists and often made major contributions to botany. In Victoria one early meeting place for these people was the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria, Mueller being an early member and supporter. Major contributors included Frederick Barton, Percival R.H. St John, Alfred Tadgell and Norman Wakefield, a school teacher who studied and published on ferns.]


Frederick Adamson

Later a few collections were made by local amateur naturalists who were residents rather than casual visitors and coastal or overland explorers. Frederick Adamson between 1840 and 1855 was probably the first resident collector of any note, sending specimens to William Hooker at Kew along with those of pastoralist John Robertson from the Casterton district who made about 4,000 collections which he donated to Kew when he returned to England in the 1850s.[8]

Daniel Bunce

Personality Daniel Bunce[9] who claimed to have trained at Kew, arrived in Hobart in 1833 aged 21 and made several collecting trips (one to Mt Wellington) and established the Denmark Hill Nursery which became insolvent, Bunce then moving to Melbourne in 1839. Here he immediately made botanical expeditions to the Dandenongs and Western Port accompanied by several Aboriginals. He was clearly a keen collector and advertised his preserved collections and seed, proposing, in 1841, the establishment of a Botanic garden under his supervision. He was a difficult personality and fell on hard times, joining the Leichhardt expedition to central Queensland in 1846 as naturalist and botanist, returning in July 1847claiming to have collected more than 1,000 specimens but the expedition was not deemed a success and after a month the team set off for Fitzroy Downs on a second expedition but was fortunate in being rejected in his appeal to join the ill-fated 1848 expedition. In 1850 he published the Australian Manual of Horticulture and by the early 1850s he was a columnist for the Argus and in 1851 he published Hortus Victoriensis, a list of 201 species of the Victorian flora, many from around the Bay, but plagiarized from a work of James Backhouse published in 1834. In 1857 he became Director of the newly laid out Geelong Botanic Gardens and instigator of the fine surrounding arboretum. The second of his three wives being the daughter of John Batman. He also laid claim to be Victoria’s first resident botanist.[10] [A Census of 1836 gave a European population of Melbourne as 142 males, 35 females and 13 buildings. By 1842 the population had grown to 10,000 with 1140 buildings in 1843. By 1851 it was a population of 29,000 that, on July, celebrated severance from New South Wales and the birth of the Colony of Victoria. Only a few weeks later the new colony received another boost when gold was discovered in and Melbourne, briefly, became the second-largest city in the British Empire after London.]

All-in-all it would seem that up to 1852 no more than about 500 plant species had been collected in Victoria and all of these were sent to England.[11]

This situation rapidly changed when the colony’s vice-regal representative Charles La Trobe (a botanical enthusiast and collector himself) appointed Dr Ferdinand Mueller Colonial Botanist on 26(?28) January 1853, a position that he held for more than 40 years.

Period of consolidation: 1855-1900

John Dallachy

Ferdinand Mueller

See Ferdinand Mueller
The daunting figure of Mueller has tended to overshadow the work of his contemporaries and set impossible standards for the future. John Dallachy, following experience in Scotland’s Haddo House, as head gardener, also some time at Kew, then managing a coffee plantation in Ceylon. He became overseer of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens on the death of John Arthur, the first ?curator, in 1849. Dallachy had joined Mueller for part of his first 1853 expedition and subsequently collected widely in the state and visiting parts not covered by Mueller. Though making a fine contribution to the Gardens by retiring in 1861 he appears to have essentially ‘handed over’ to Mueller, who had been appointed Director of the Botanic Gardens in 1857. As a rolling stone this allowed him to continue his preferred activity of plant collecting[12] in his later years around Rockingham Bay where he eventually died in his tent in 1871.[13]

Carl Wilhelmi

Carl Wilhelmi was a German seedsman from Dresden who arrived in Adelaide in 1849, collecting extensively in South Australian where he first met Mueller. When Mueller was away on the Gregory Expedition of 1855-6 Wilhelmi was appointed Acting Government Botanist for 18 months. On Mueller’s return in 1857 he remaining at the herbarium as Mueller’s assistant until 1869 during which time he made many collecting trips through the state.

Charles French

In 1881 Charles French, who had worked in the Botanic Gardens, became assistant to Mueller in the Phytological Museum where he worked mainly on ferns and orchids although his first interest was insects which lead, eventually, to his appointment as Victoria’s first Government Entomologist. French’s son, also Charles, shared his father’s interest in collecting and worked at the herbarium as Mueller’s amanuensis for several years.

Johann Luehmann

Mueller was followed as Government Botanist first by Johann Luehmann (1896-1904) and then Alfred Ewart (1905-1921). Luehmann had joined the herbarium staff in 1867 and although he neither collected nor published to any extent, he gave Mueller loyal service and support for almost 30 years, becoming Victorian Government Botanist and Curator of the Melbourne Herbarium when Mueller died in 1896.

Samuel Hannaford

Mueller encouraged and supported the work of early settler collectors working in rural Victoria, supplementing the field work of the herbarium botanists with collections made in their spare time. Bank teller Samuel Hannaford settled in Melbourne in 1853 moving first to Warrnambool (1855-6) and then to Geelong (1856-63) where he also edited the Victorian Agricultural and Horticultural Gazette before moving to Tasmania. For the 20 years that he resided in Australia he presented Mueller with a steady stream of specimens.

Hermann Beckler

German medical doctor Hermann Beckler’s early collections were in south-east Queensland and northern New South Wales but he was also medical officer and botanist to the Burke and Wills Victoria Exploring expedition and employed by Mueller as a collector in the central and north-western districts of Victoria.[14] Beckler also served and collected while on the Neumayer magnetic survey of north-western Victoria in the northern goldfields and Mallee in late 1861. He had left an impression with his botanical colleagues because some 13 species have been named after him.

Henry Tisdall & James Stirling

In the east of the state Henry Tisdall collected mostly around northern Gippsland and the Baw Baw plateau though with Mueller’s encouragement he turned his attention to first fungi and then algae, publishing his work in the 1880s and 1890s. At about this time James Stirling, an officer with the Lands Department at Omeo who was later to become Government Geologist, made extensive collections in the alps, sometimes accompanied by Mueller himself.

Field naturalists 1880-1950

By the 1880s the phase of initial state exploration was essentially complete and botany settled into more detailed studies of particular areas and plant groups. Roads and railways had been built to cater for expanding population and natural history was part of the education curriculum.

Carl Walter, Alfred Tadgell, Thomas Hart, Herbert Williamson

The Field Naturalists Club of Victoria (FNCV) was formed in 1880 and it maintained a close connection with the National Herbarium of Victoria, counting among its members the prominent botanists of the day. To this day the acquisition of specimens owes much to the efforts of FNCV. Important collections made by members of the FNCV include those of: German Carl Walter who collected mostly in the east of the state, in the alps and south-eastern New South Wales; native-born accountant Alfred Tadgell who collected thousands of plant specimens, mostly from the high country, and published several papers; Charles Sutton who investigated the plants of the basalt plains in the western part of the state as well as the Sandringham heathlands; teacher Thomas Hart and his brothers inspired an interest in natural history in his fellows as he led excursions around Brighton, Caulfield, the Dandenongs, Ballarat and Bairnsdale; country schoolteacher Herbert Williamson was another inspirational figure who collected mainly in the central and west of the state producing a number of publications on diverse plant groups and noted for his contribution to the FNCV publication A Census of Plants of Victoria produced in 1923, with a revised edition in 1928.

James Audas & Percival St John

Work by herbarium botanists continued. James Audas served in the herbarium for 40 years beginning his training under Luehmann. He wrote many popular accounts of his collecting around the state, especially Wilson’s Promontory, in which he joined with another keen collector Percival St John who had joined the Botanic Gardens staff at age 11 and, under the early influence of Mueller was self-taught in botany, possessing a natural talent for naming plants, initially assisting William Baker, “Seedsman and Plant Classifier”, in establishing a small herbarium of cultivated plants but being promoted to become Head Gardener, and then Classifier in charge of the Economic Museum, eventually serving for 55 years, possibly the longest period of service ever for a Victorian public servant.

Alfred Ewart

Mueller was followed as Government Botanist first by Johann Luehmann (1896-1904) and then Alfred Ewart (1905-1921). Ewart came from England to take up a position as part-time Government Botanist and part-time professor of botany at Melbourne University, a position he held from 1906 to 1921. After 1921 the position of Government Botanist was coupled with the Directorship of the Gardens until ?, and the first professor of botany in Australia. While maintaining an interest in systematic botany he published books on Weeds, Poisonous Plants, and Naturalized Aliens of Victoria in 190?, and a Handbook of Forest Tree for Victorians in 1925. Perhaps his best known publication, completed with other workers, was the first Flora of Victoria (1931).

Walter Zimmer, Edward Pescott, William Nicholls

This was a historically lean time after World War I but in the country interest did not wane. Walter Zimmer, Chief Forester in Mildura, during the 1930s and 1940s made extensive collections and ecological records of the plants in the north-west mallee area which he eventually published as The Flora of the far North West of Victoria … in 1937. This was a period of interest in orchids, the principal of Burnley College (then known as Burnley School) and member of the FNCV Edward Pescott published The Orchids of Victoria in 1928. (Dir RBG)This was followed shortly after by work of bookbinder and later gardener and propagator with the Footscray City Council, William Nicholls, a keen field botanist and botanical artist, publishing over 150 articles on orchids his work being synthesized by David Jones and Bruce Muir after his death as Orchids of Australia in 1969.

National Herbarium of Victoria



National Herbarium of Victoria

National Herbarium of Victoria
Founded in 1853 by Ferdinand Mueller a new building was completed in 1934
This curved extension was opened in 1989
Image Roger Spencer 21 May 2018


It was collections made on Mueller’s treks of exploration that laid the foundation of Mueller’s Phytological Museum that later became the National Herbarium of Victoria (MEL), Australia’s largest and historically most important herbarium. Initially in a small building in the gardens the herbarium was moved to the Domain in 1860-1861 and in 1935 to a new building in the main gardens with a new curved annex built in 1989.

University of Melbourne Herbarium

The University of Melbourne Herbarium (MELU) was established in 1926 and, with about 150,000 specimens, it is now the largest university herbarium in Australia.

The herbarium of the School of Botany at the University of Melbourne is used for both teaching and research and has been built on the ~4,000 collections of theological student Herman Rupp. Around the turn of the century he collected both around Melbourne and in western Victoria where his father was a vicar, always keeping meticulous notes on his collections but he is best known for his work on New South Wales orchids. As a student, Rupp’s interest in botany had been stimulated by Bracebridge Wilson, headmaster of Geelong Grammar for 32 years, himself a keen botanist remembered mostly for his contributions to the study of marine algae.[16] The herbarium was housed in the new School of Botany erected in 1929 under the aegis of Prof. Ewart and includes valuable collections of algae by Sophie Ducker and Gerald Kraft, and fungi by Gordon Beaton. There are also small herbaria held by the botany departments at La Trobe and Monash Universities.

1950 0n

Herbarium botanists
Across the country there was a lull in activity between the two wars. Herbarium staff focused on specific plant groups, Helen Aston on aquatic plants, Rex Filson on lichens, Ray Smith on naturalised plants, Bruce Muir on orchids, Arthur Court the genus Acacia and the ecological work of Paul Gullan surveying and recording vegetation communities in minute detail across the state.

Amateur botanists

Amateur enthusiasts continued to contribute, among them teacher and naturalist Norman Wakefield, a member of the FNCV specializing in ferns and the flora of Gippsland, dying tragically …. Valuable simplified floras have been produced by horticulturist and popular writer Jean Galbraith and teacher-naturalist Leon Costermans.

James Willis

James Willis[17][18] joined the staff in 1937 when the Herbarium staff were few. In 1972 he was appointed Assistant Government Botanist. He is remembered for his prodigious knowledge , not only of plants but natural history in general, his inspirational communication skills, his wide collections made across the state, his many papers, and the two-volume A Handbook to Plants of Victoria (1970, 1973).

Cliff Beuglehole

Cliff Beauglehole, a contemporary of Willis, an orchardist and naturalist from Portland and keen member of the Portland Field Naturalists Club of Victoria, was undoubtedly the state’s most avid old-style recent botanical collector amassing over 37,000 (check) specimens now housed in the National Herbarium of Victoria extending known plant distributions and discovering new species. His interest has also extended to other states, his total herbarium in 1993 estimated at over 90 000 specimens making him probably the contenent’s most prolific plant collector ever, never likely to be surpassed.


Herbaria accumulate their specimens by engaging in specimen exchange programs, and by accumulating donations and collections made by staff. Occasionally, as with Melbourne, there was also the purchase of private herbaria, a few people actually making a living by collecting and selling specimens.[19]

Francis Wilson (Kew) Lichens c. 1907 £100 (NSW)
Felix Reader (Dimboola) Flg & non-flg pts 1906 Unknown
Max Koch WA flowering plants c. 1925 Unknown
Raleigh Black Flg pts (mostly Tas) 1957 £300
Joachim Steetz Flowering plants c. 1859 Unknown
James Drummond Flowering plants Unknown
Otto Sonder (Germany) Flg & non flg pts c.250,000 sheets c.1883 £900

D. Sullivan collected the Grampians flora for Mueller, specializing in mosses.

Publications and Journal

Although Mueller laid a firm foundation for the Victorian flora through Flora Australiensis, with George Bentham, and his numerous other publications, the first full account was by Ewart in 1931, the Flora of Victoria followed by the two-volume A Handbook to Plants in Victoria by James Willis in 1962 and 1972 followed again from 1993 to 1999 by a four-volume multi-author Flora of Victoria. Taxonomic work is published in Muelleria the journal of the National Herbarium of Victoria which commenced in 1955.

Recent and contemporary botanists Recent work has emphasized the neglected areas – cryptogams (mosses and liverworts) and fungi.


Helen Aston (aquatic plants; the pioneering book Aquatic Plants of Australia, 1977), Geoff Carr (Orchidaceae, naturalised plants), Andrew Drinnan (Myrtaceae, Winteraceae, palaeontology), Sophie Ducker (marine algae, history of botany), Tim Entwisle (freshwater algae, Flora of Victoria), Rex Filson (lichens), Don Foreman (Proteaceae, Flora of Victoria), Geoff Jeanes (Orchidaceae), Gerry Kraft (marine algae), Pauline Ladiges (Eucalyptus), Tom May (fungi), Patrick McCarthy (lichens), Jim Ross (legumes), George Scott (bryophytes), Philip Short (Asteraceae), Kevin Thiele (Banksia, Dryandra), Trevor Whiffen (rainforest trees), Frank Udovicic (Myrtaceae), Neville Walsh (Pomaderris, Flora of Victoria), Bill Woelkerling (coralline algae), Helen Cohn (history of botany and botanists).

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